Over the years, the Pageant has seen its share of magical musical performances. Sunday night, it added another one as Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters made good on a performance originally scheduled for LouFest, which was canceled.
Downsizing a concert meant to play to tens of thousands to a venue that holds 2,300 made the event special for those lucky enough to make it inside. Tickets sold out instantly.
One thing that might have made Plant’s decision to play the Pageant easier: His band’s equipment was already there. The show was the first date on a new leg of the tour supporting his most recent album, 2017’s “Carry Fire,” and Plant had booked the room for Saturday so he could rehearse.
Early on, Plant promised to play new material as well as sate the Led Zeppelin fans in the crowd by “roll(ing) the stone back to see if some tablets come down from the hill.”
Which they did. But the secret of Plant’s long and successful post-Zep career is that he doesn’t play the classics by rote, but rather repurposes them in ways that make them fresh and new. His solo material, meanwhile, sounds of a piece with his past glories without being imitative of them.
Plant kicked off the evening with two “Carry Fire” tracks, “New World” and “The May Queen” spliced by “Turn It Up,” from his previous album, “lullaby and … the Ceaseless Roar.”
The singer was generous with the spotlight, giving it over to guitarists Justin Adams and Liam “Skin” Tyson as well as violinist Lillie Mae Rische, who goes by Lillie Mae and who opened the show before joining in for much of the headlining set.
A palpable shiver went through the crowd when a molten beat laid down by drummer John Blease gave way to the opening lyric of the Zep classic “Black Dog.” The crowd was so loud repeating back Plant’s “Ahh-ahh” call, that it momentarily cracked him up.
Another special moment followed with another Zep classic, the bucolic “Going to California.”
From there he moved back to his solo material with “Please Read the Letter” from “Raising Sand,” his multiple-Grammy-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss.
“Carry Fire” then brought out the exotic Middle Eastern influences that are often present in Plant’s music.
But the real showstopper was a long, winding take on “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” a folk cover that made its appearance on Led Zeppelin’s debut album a staggering 49 years ago.
Tyson’s acoustic guitar stylings were featured throughout, but Plant, who is 70, still carries the song with his keening vocals.
Ending the set with the traditional “Little Maggie” and Bukka White’s classic blues “Fixin’ to Die,” Plant joked about his time making music with bluegrass musicians. “We all went to bed much earlier and sang really old (expletive) songs,” he said.
The encore was “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” a spiritual Plant had covered on his “Band of Joy” album. For a moment, it veered into Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” He then sent Zep fans home happy with the indelible riff of “Whole Lotta Love” ringing in their ears, but still managed to put a new and novel spin on it by including a slice of the traditional sea shanty “Santianna” in its middle section.